Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Developing Leaders in a Business

Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Developing Leaders in a Business

Article excerpt

Marvin Bower, McKinsey's managing partner from 1950 to 1967, turned 93 this year. In his new book, he urges senior managers to abandon command-and-control structures and adopt a program to develop leaders, starting with themselves. In this excerpt, he explores the attributes of leadership.

The shortcomings of command-and-control management are becoming ever more apparent. The hierarchy of bosses organized into ranks, with each superior exercising authority over subordinates who do exactly what their boss wants, has long been the dominant form of corporate organization. But recognizing that they are handicapped by their current systems, many companies are now questioning the way they manage themselves. They are striving for greater effectiveness and flexibility to cope with and capitalize on the fast-moving, ever-changing competitive conditions they see just ahead.

I believe that the old command system must be replaced. Fixing it is not good enough. My view is that authority should be replaced by leadership. By that, I don't mean that a business should be run by a single leader, but that it should be run by a network of leaders positioned right through the organization. Leaders and leadership teams working together will, I suggest, run a business more effectively than a hierarchical, command-and-control structure.

What makes a leader?

Leadership scholars define a leader as a person who sets attractive goals and has the ability to attract followers, or constituents, who share those goals. Above all, a leader must be trusted and respected. Trust between a leader and constituents opens up two-way communication, making it possible for them to realize their common goals.

Anyone who aspires to lead must develop certain qualities and attributes. By "qualities," ! mean elements of character or personal makeup that are typically difficult (but not impossible) to learn. People usually bring their qualities with them when they join a company. "Attributes," on the other hand, are more like skills and hence easier to learn. Fortunately, the attributes needed for leadership far outnumber the qualities.


Leadership scholars are virtually unanimous in putting trustworthiness at the top of the list of qualities required by any leader. Trustworthiness is integrity in action. Pearl S. Buck, winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize for Literature, put it thus: "Integrity is honesty carried through the fibers of the being and the whole mind, into thought as well as into action so that the person is complete in honesty. That kind of integrity I put above all else as an essential of leadership."(1)

Anyone seeking to be a leader should always tell the truth, if for no other reason than it is simpler. Richard Heckert, retired chairman of DuPont, put it this way: "If you always tell the truth, you won't have to remember what you said."

I have observed that the executives I trusted most were truthful about unimportant as well as important things. They went into detail to be accurate about small things, even correcting statements about things that did not matter. High-precision truthfulness is a good way to gain trust, the ticket of admission to leadership.

Ralph Hart, former chairman of Heublein and president of Colgate-Palmolive, spoke of an incident early in his career when he was hired to sell adding machines to small stores. He was given no training, just provided with samples and sent straight into the field. When he began his route, he was too nervous to enter the first store. As it was late in the day, he decided to wait until morning and begin fresh. But the next day he was still nervous. Finally, near closing time, he approached a store owner, who wasn't interested:

"I asked, 'Would you at least look at them?' So the store owner started asking me questions, and I kept on saying, 'I don't know, but I'll find out.' Finally the owner agreed to purchase an adding machine. …

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